BRUJAS' "Seize Bellevue" Project Is Reigniting the Discussion Around Mental Health
Taking a stand against social media.
BRUJAS is far more than a skateboarding collective – in the past short few years, the NYC-based crew has used its platform and its art to bring attention to – and fight for – the causes and people it believes in. The all-inclusive, gender-neutral organization’s previous initiatives have included the Anti Prom events series, Each One Teach One which offered workshops and lectures and the 1971 Collection, which honored prison strikes taking place across the U.S. and the many problems within the American justice system.
The group’s latest project, “Seize Bellevue,” is a non-traditional lookbook for its second Spring/Summer 2018 apparel collection. Created in partnership with Cabbage Magazine, the lookbook – which is only available in physical printed copies – acts as both a vessel for showcasing the clothing and opening a wider discussion around mental health. Self-described as being dedicated to the “experiences and institutionalized wrongs of the mental health system,” “Seize Bellevue” comprises of personal essays and artwork from the BRUJAS community and an exclusive look at the garments themselves, described as “Sick Wear For Contemporary Rebel Youth.” We spoke with the Arianna and Ripley from the BRUJAS squad about this innovative and empowering new project – read on to find out more.
Although mental health is still relatively stigmatized, conversation and awareness around the topic is more prevalent and open now than it’s ever been before. Why do you think that is?
Unfortunately we think this has to do with the fact that more and more people are being diagnosed, as the pharmaceutical industry has more and more control over psychiatric and medical practices. We are skeptical that this has to do with the rise of actual holistic approaches to mental health. Most of what we see is a rise of pretty neoliberal ideas about self-care, which we see as placing the responsibility of “wellness” on the individual as opposed to changing the structures of capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy that shape our everyday social conditions and our actual mental health.
Parts of your zine really hone in around women of color and people of lower incomes and their relationships with mental illness. Why were these groups of people a particular focus for you?
That’s us! That’s who we are.
“The symbolism isn’t as obvious as it might seem; we wanted to make our first contribution to the couture archive.”
You decided to quite literally take hospital gown-style garments as inspiration for the key piece in this collection – what is it about the symbolism of that one garment that made you want to recreate it with your own narrative?
We worked with the costume designer for the iconic web series Zhe Zhe named Arabella Aldrich. We essentially sent her a bunch of aesthetic references and she came up with this incredible design! It reminds of us of so many things: the Showtime show Penny Dreadful when the witch Vanessa Ives is in the asylum where she gets visited by Lucifer, our real life experiences of all our friends who are women and non-binary people who have been hospitalized, The Handmaid’s Tale, contemporary streetwear, what we wish our prom dresses could have been like, weird performance art. The symbolism isn’t as obvious as it might seem; we wanted to make our first contribution to the couture archive.
You made a conscious decision to not share the look book on social media, which is fitting for the theme – is this a direction you’d like to continue going in with your work?
Yes, we collaborated with Cabbage Magazine, an up-and-coming publication devoted to streetwear culture. The magazine is special for so many reasons but one of them is that you can only find it in print. The publisher, Taj Francois Williams, is an LA-based artist and a member of BRUJAS.
Through working in the social media-saturated industry of fashion and cultural production like parties, we’ve really found that social media is such a burden on young people’s mental health. It’s killing our creativity, and while some argue it’s a mode of self-care or expression, we really think it’s evil and is just another tool used by corporations to mine data and exploit cultural workers for no pay.
“Through working in the social media-saturated industry of fashion and cultural production like parties, we’ve really found that social media is such a burden on young people’s mental health. It’s killing our creativity.”
There have been numerous reports on Millennials and Gen Z’ers being the most “depressed” generation to date – do you have any thoughts on that?
These studies are likely omitting all the generations of Black people born under slavery. Though, we’re sure that Generation Z and Millennial depression has everything to do with the social and economic conditions of late Capitalism – and that there are more Black people who are incarcerated today than there were enslaved in 1850.